Acquaintance Sex Offenders often ‘groom’ their victims prior to any sexual abuse for a period of weeks, months or even years. When the parent(s) is physically or emotionally absent it makes the child the most vulnerable to a sex offenders cunning tactics.
Grooming activities include, but are not restricted to the following.
o Befriending and gaining trust with the parent(s)–especially single women. The sex offender offers to watch the child so the single mother or parents can have a ‘free’ night out; or provide fun activities–taking the child away from the home. During these activities the sex offender deepens the grooming activities–touching the child in ways that are seemingly inocuous… yet sexual in nature. Such as hugging often, touching her buttocks, putting his hand on her leg, kissing her on the cheek and exculating to kissing her on the mouth. At any stage of the grooming process if she protests he apologizes to quiet her discomfort. He knows he will gain acceptance again, if the protest is weak or she readily accepts the apology.
The sex offender is keenly aware that the child needs to be controlled to the extent he/she can sexually abuse the child without fear of disclosure. This manipulation may be obtained in many ways: favors, threats, guilt, shame, ‘This is our secret,’ ‘If you tell anyone, they won’t believe you,’ ‘You can’t tell, I will lose my job, ‘You know you wanted to do this too. You could have stopped any time.’ Thus, making the child equally responsible for the sexual activity.
Other ways Sex Offenders gain access to children:
o Securing jobs and participating in community events that involve children. Then, befriending those who the most vulnerable.
o Volunteering to coach children’s sports, thus, having opportunities to befriend the parents and then groom the child.
o Attending sporting events for children, thus, learning which parents are absent during the game. Offering to give the child a ride home.
o Volunteering in youth organizations, volunteering to chaperone overnight trips.
o Frequently being in places children socialize – playgrounds, malls, game arcades, etc. Befriending the child, who projects loneliness, offering to buy them treats or small items of interest.
o Engaging in Internet gaming and social web sites, learning the online interests and lingo of tweens and teens. Befriending those who seem to be seeking attention, love and affection.
o Being foster parents. It is foolhardy to assume someone, who is married with children would be less likely to be a sex offender. Sex offenders might only sexually abuse other’s children and not their own. Thus, sex offenders will become a foster parent to have ready access to children. If the foster child is returned to his/her parent(s), or an adoptive family, another child will soon need foster parents.
Grooming can be done in the presence of others, often without the other person recognizing the intent of the behavior.
A mother revealed her husband played a tickling game with their three-year-old son. The rule of the game was to play with Daddy and have fun-the son was instructed to tickle his father’s nipples while sitting in a straddled position over his father’s nude body from the waist up. The object of this game was, ‘Make daddy laugh.’ Of course, the father could withhold laughing until he experienced the sexual stimulation he desired. When the mother objected to this game, the father admonished her for being jealous of his time with their son.
Another mother was horrified when her three-year old daughter asked her to play the ‘pee-pee’ game. She asked her daughter to explain this game. Her daughter lay on her back on the floor; legs spread and said, “Touch my ‘pee-pee,’ Mommy, that is what Daddy does.”
Fathers frequently cuddle in bed with their daughters in a spoon position, arm across their mid-body with only underware or pajamas on. Several clients have reported feeling their father’s penis against their legs or back, while not knowing what to do-as they wanted their father’s affection-they didn’t like the feeling of his genitals against their body. This cuddling seems harmless, most mothers reason. The women also reported sexual abuse occurred sometime later. Was the cuddling in bed a form of grooming or was the cuddling an ill advised way to show affection with the child that unwittingly led to subsequent sexual abuse? In either belief; the damage is done.
In a study of twenty adult sex offenders conducted by Jon Cote, Steven Wolf and Tim Smith; two of the key questions asked were:
1. “Was there something about the child’s behavior which attracted you to the child?”
o “The warm and friendly child or the vulnerable child. Friendly, showed me their panties.”
o “The way the child would look at me, trustingly.”
o “The child who was teasing me, smiling at me, asking me to do favors.”
o “Someone who had been a victim before [sexual abuse or spankings], quiet, withdrawn, compliant. Someone, who had not been, a victim would be more non-accepting of the sexual language or stepping over the boundaries of modesty. Quieter, easier to manipulate, less likely to object or put up a fight… goes along with things.”
2. “After you had identified a potential victim, what did you do to engage the child into sexual contact?” The responses included:
o “I didn’t say anything. It was at night, and she was in bed asleep.”
o “Talking, spending time with them, being around them at bedtime, being around them in my underwear, sitting down on the bed with them. Constantly evaluating the child’s reaction… A lot of touching, hugging, kissing, snuggling.” [Desensitizing the child with appropriate behavior.]
o “Playing, talking, giving special attention, trying to get the child to initiate contact with me… Get the child to feel safe to talk with me. From here I would initiate different kinds of contact, such as touching the child’s back, head… Testing the child to see how much she would take before she would pull away.”
o “Isolate them from other people. Once alone, I would make a game of it (red light, green light with touching up their leg until they said stop). Making it fun.”
o “Most of the time I would start by giving them a rub down. When I got them aroused, I would take the chance and place my hand on their penis to masturbate them. If they would not object, I would take this to mean it was okay… I would isolate them. I might spend the night with them. Physical isolation, closeness, contact are more important than verbal seduction.”
Many of my clients have reported their sexual abuse grooming started when they showered with a parent-or the parent/caretaker washed the child’s genital area with bare hands and soap long past the stage a child needed assistance to cleanse their genital area. While for some this activity was the extent of the covert sexual contact, but for others it evolved into overt sexual abuse. Even though the activity was only ‘rubbing’ the genital area ostensibly for bathing purposes, many people suffered classic aftereffects of sexual abuse.
How? You might ask, would the child experience sexual abuse by having their genital area washed with bare hands and soap? The answer is simple. At birth, children are complete neurological sexual beings, who can experience erotic sensation, although they are sexually immature and without an active sex drive. Furthermore, the child experiences the adult’s physiology, which has sexual overtones, thus although the child doesn’t have a name for the experience the child knows his/her body is responding in a unfamiliar manner and the experience with the adults is unfamiliar. Within the definition of sexual abuse it is abuse, “If a child cannot refuse, or who believes she or he cannot refuse she/he has been violated.”
Grooming or sexual abuse activities also include:
o Playing pool tag-when the child is tagged ‘Playfully’ pulling the child’s swimsuit down.
o Pulling her panties down without her permission.
o Male holding a child on his lap while he has an erection.
o Kissing the child in a way that is sexual for the giver and inappropriate for the child.
o Seemingly innocuous touching, caressing, wrestling, tickling or playing, which has sexual overtones or meaning for the other person.
o Adult treats the child as an equal/peer, pseudo or surrogate spouse.
o Teacher/coach or activity leader befriends a child in the guise of helping him/her with studies and/or sports.
Unique and less frequently reported grooming activities:
o Male demonstrates and instructs the child how to suck on a peeled banana without breaking or putting teeth marks on it. Once the child has complied and masters the skill; this activity is shifted to his penis-often using the con-“I have a big banana between my legs, you can suck on it.”
o Male initiates a game of ‘sucking the jelly’ out of my big toe. Once the child has complied and understands the ‘game.’ This activity is shifted to his penis.
o Invading a child’s privacy, such as entering the bathroom or bedroom without knocking, catching her/him unaware or indisposed. This invasion is a power play-disempowering their victim-indoctrinating the child to comply with the adult’s authority and control in all situations and circumstances.
o Enemas or frequent inspection of the child’s genitals ostensibly for health reasons.
In the thirty plus years I have worked with sexual abuse survivors in the healing process, I have discovered a child is rarely subjected to only one type of sexual abuse. Furthermore, I have learned the sad truth about the human mind’s ability to seemingly conceive of endless ways to sexually abuse children.
Resource: Conte, Jon R., Steven Wolf, Tim Smith. “What Sexual Offenders Tell Us About Prevention Strategies.” Child Abuse & Neglect Vol. 13 (1989): 293-301
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